Wednesday, April 1, 2020
When You Can’t Pray by John VanDerWalker
There has been a growing impatience with the response “Our thoughts and prayers are with you/them.” People of faith and folks of social conscience are beginning to say, let’s quit praying and do something about _________. This is a valid criticism and one that we should, as disciples of Jesus consider as a criticism on Christian discipleship. If all Jesus had done is pray and not extended healing touch and liberation the blind would have remained so, the guilty would have been condemned and the world would be in darkness.
But what about when you can’t pray? Some would have you believe that prayer can be stopped by laws, I know better, I have prayed in the midst of some very hostile environments, and have offered vocal public prayers calling those in power to account. There is nowhere in the world that you cannot pray, if you are able.
Sound like a contradiction? Well maybe, but let me explain. There has been a time in my life that I couldn’t pray. The habit was still there, the desire or maybe the motivation was there, but the thoughts and words would not come. I have sat, stood, laid in silence with my tongue and mind in neutral, no thoughts, no words, no prayers. Recently this has gone on for years.
Now, before you start pitying me, hang on.
I have never once felt alone or abandoned by God in these times. As I think back on those dry spells I am reminded of the witness of nature, the witness of my friends, my family, spiritual leaders, and authors. Not once did God discontinue to show me God’s presence, whether it be in the antics of chickadees, the grace of soaring eagles, the rambunctious joy of a fawn, or the meditative murmur of a trout stream, God was constantly present and speaking. I have had folks reach out to me out of the blue, like my high school friend David, who upon hearing of the passing of a loved one has called every couple of weeks just to make sure I was ok. Or the dedication of colleagues who make sure the job gets done well and with a sense of joy to boot. There is always the witness of faithfulness from my life companion who has not had an easy time with me.
God’s genius expressed in the genius of men and women who are able to use words on paper to generate ideas, confirm feelings and foster inspiration, is witness to me in early morning and late evening reading sessions that at times last hours. I sense God there on the pages flowing from the minds of those who write. Wendell Berry, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, and on and on.
I know that some have felt abandoned by God, luckily I have not really been there, but I have been and am somewhat still mute when it comes to prayer, or at least what I was taught was prayer. My mind swirls with the condition of the planet, the pain of my friends and the struggle of family and while that tornado is spinning in my head, still the words do not come, and so I sit, stand, lie, quietly, paying attention to the presence of God around me. I listen. And maybe that is appropriate for me, maybe I have said enough for a lifetime and now it is time to listen, to watch, to feel, to act.